Richardson Calls Obama 'Once-in-a Lifetime' Leader

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson endorses Sen. Barack Obama's presidential candidacy, disappointing Sen. Hillary Clinton. The former energy secretary for the Clinton administration, who is thought to have vice-presidential aspirations, called Obama a "once-in-a-lifetime leader."

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Noah Adams.

Barack Obama picked up a coveted endorsement today in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Illinois senator got the backing of a former rival, New Mexico's governor, Bill Richardson. Richardson is the country's only Hispanic governor. He announced his support at a rally in Portland, Oregon.

And as NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, the endorsement comes at a crucial time for the Obama campaign.

INA JAFFE: Barack Obama's had a tough time lately. Losses in the Ohio and Texas primaries put the breaks on his momentum. Controversy over statements made by his former pastor led the candidate to make a major speech on race relations earlier this week. And when Richardson delivered his endorsement today, it was that speech that he talked about first, though he used it to portray Obama not only as a visionary but as the clear frontrunner in his battle with Hillary Clinton.

(Soundbite of applause)

Governor BILL RICHARDSON (Democrat, New Mexico): Senator Obama could have given a safer speech, he is after all well ahead in the delegates count for our party nomination.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

JAFFE: Richardson's endorsement is something that both the Obama and Clinton campaigns strongly pursued. He's a former member of the Clinton administration as United Nation's ambassador and energy secretary. And Richardson acknowledged that relationship even as he endorsed Hillary Clinton's opponent.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Gov. RICHARDSON: My great affection and admiration for Senator Clinton and President Clinton will never waiver. It is time, however, for Democrats to stop fighting amongst ourselves and prepareā€¦

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

JAFFE: Well, you know what they want to prepare for. If Obama is the nominee, he will likely face Republican John McCain in November. The Arizona senator has been taking shots at Obama's credibility on national security, as has Hillary Clinton. But Richardson, the former U.N. ambassador and veteran international negotiator, used his experience in that arena to burnish Obama's credentials.

Gov. RICHARDSON: Barack Obama, you're a leader who has shown courage, judgment and wisdom throughout the years. You understand the security challenges of the 21st century and you will be an outstanding commander-in-chief.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

JAFFE: Because of Richardson's resume, this is not just a perfunctory compliment from a political ally, says Democratic campaign consultant Bill Carrick, who's remained neutral on this race.

Mr. BILL CARRICK (Democratic Campaign Consultant): So for him to say he's for Barack Obama really does give Senator Obama some renewed credibility as the potential commander-in-chief.

JAFFE: The endorsement not only sends a message to Richardson's fellow superdelegates, says Carrick, but also to Hillary Clinton who trails in the delegate count with only a few contests left, and Michigan and Florida extremely unlikely to hold new primaries.

Mr. CARRICK: How do you close this down? That has got to be one of the very important considerations for the Obama campaign. And anytime you have a national leader speaking out on behalf of Senator Obama, that is a very powerful message for Senator Obama to send to superdelegates, to the remaining primary voters.

JAFFE: And especially to Hispanic voters who have supported Hillary Clinton but may take another look at Obama in the upcoming primaries because of Richardson. Of course, the only contest left with a large contingent of Hispanic voters is Puerto Rico which doesn't vote until June 1st. And party leaders have their fingers crossed that there is more clarity in the Democratic race by then.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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